Expect Little!

My mission to procure cigarettes and beer from the liquor store nearly ended in disaster one night last summer when a woman in a swell car almost ran me down.  She had responsibly checked for oncoming traffic — in the wrong direction — before executing her turn, and as she passed me our eyes met through the passenger window.  She looked at me as if to say, “oh! how long have you been there?” and I stood in the street, toes mere inches from her rolling tires, grinning back at her in frank amusement.

I should have been outraged.  I should have spit upon the hood of her car.  The thing is, I just didn’t feel any anger toward her at all.  I found it funny that she might have killed me outright and, altogether oblivious of her  manslaughter, simply gone on to shop at Target.

Was it remarkable that a person should make such a glaring error among the throngs of humans negotiating the myriad avenues and boulevards of Los Angeles County, thought I?  Oh, hardly.  In fact, only an idiot wouldn’t expect it.

Then suddenly, as I went on my way with a wide smile warming my face, I shrugged, and an epiphany descended upon me as if from heaven.

“Expect little,” I said aloud.

And I’ve been saying it every day since.

The obnoxious behavior of others is normal for human beings. Expect little.

Expect little is a prayer.  It soothes and calms.  It educates.  It’s an unlikely mantra which inculcates a sort of passive humility.

It may be a nice gesture to presume that everyone is endowed with friendliness, elementary skills and common sense, but it’s an unlikely supposition which can only lead to discontent.   One ought rather to expect little of others.  Hate becomes very difficult when people act in accordance with your already-low expectations of them.

It behooves us all to acquaint ourselves with the idea that humanity may not be cut out for greatness, not even in our own hackneyed estimation.

Expect little, friends, because the highest percentage of people is always more rude, stupid, and unkempt than the minority of well-mannered, intelligent, and hygienic people.  This is because exceptional characteristics are by definition above average — which is to say, that they are the exception, rather than the rule.  Expecting little from people allows you to be content with the way people actually are, and pleasantly surprised by above-average behavior, which is as it should be.

To expect excellence from people, on the other hand, is silly.  People have never been cool en masse, but mass media has programmed us to expect everyone to be beautiful, polite, and at least somewhat intelligent.  This is (ha, ha!) not the case.

Expecting excellence from people is not even respectful to them.  In fact, it’s condescending.  You aren’t so cool, yourself, you know, particularly from the perspectives of people who don’t live up to your high standards.  We — you and I — are not cool enough to expect good things from others.  We don’t even know what cool is, in the universal sense.

Let people be stupid.  Let them be themselves, for God’s sake (big G).  Let them be stupid today, because you’re probably going to do something stupid tomorrow.

Think you're especially brilliant? Wrong. Each of us is just as gloriously idiotic as the next. Embrace humanity.

Expect little, because you can quickly become depressed by the amount of people who fail to meet your expectations.  That’s not any good.  Discontent with others leads to treating people as though you do not like them around — which tends to convince people that you do not like them around.  Pretty soon, you find yourself without anybody around, and where do you suppose everyone has gone?  Why, into the next room, of course, where everyone is frowning in your direction and calling you an elitist asshole.

Of you, they would do better to expect little.

We don’t only have irrationally high expectations of people, though.  Occasionally, we even find ourselves angry with luck, itself, as if it were slacking or something, remiss in its duties, not paying close enough attention to us and producing the wrong kind of random event.   This is perhaps our most common madness.  Why should we expect good fortune from random chance?  Random chance is the one thing from which we shouldn’t expect anything at all!

The world’s smartest computer can’t make accurate predictions of what random chance will produce.  Why bother lamenting an unfortunate mishap as if shocked that it might inconvenience you?  Mishaps happen.  In fact, mishaps happen so regularly — and with such colorful variety — that we ought long ago to have stopped guessing what should or should not transpire within the course of a day.  However, the rusty computers between our ears are always half-dedicated to overestimating their ill-collected data and faulty projections.

You see, then, we even expect too much of ourselves.  We’re only human, friends.  Chase your dreams in earnest, quest valiantly for glory, and by-all-means be the change you wish to see in the world, as the neo-hippies say — but…

Expect little.

Luck of the draw got you down? Dice come up snake-eyes again? Take my word for it -- expect little.

Expect little!  Expect your neighbor to make too much noise.  Expect your boss to give you too much work.  Expect helicopter parenting, drunk driving, and repeat offending, often by the same culprits.  Expect your favorite band to use too much cowbell.

Expect people from poorly educated states in poorly educated countries to act poorly educated.  Expect people crammed into tight quarters with millions of others to develop hurtful prejudices.  Expect full-grown adults to parrot what they see in movies, in magazines, and in mainstream music, and expect their teenagers (raised likewise by televisions and gangsta rap) to be perfectly disrespectful.

Expect politicians to lie, and cheat, and steal, not to mention fornicate with people you’d rather they wouldn’t.  Expect people with guns (soldiers, cops, and criminals) to shoot people.  Expect druggies to do drugs and go about in public on drugs, and to act just as though they might be high on drugs.  Say to them when you see them shrinking from the demons down aisle nine at Rite-Aid, “Hello, druggie.  How do you do?”

Expect preachers to sin, marriages to fail, and sons and daughters to leave the family religion.  Expect athletes to take steroids, psychiatrists to prescribe poison, and models to mutilate themselves surgically.  Expect wonder.  Expect marvel.  Expect to be astonished at the spectacle in which every one of us plays a humble part.

In other words, expect people to act just as though they were human — but for your own sake as well as that of others, the next time your friend complains that a significant other has forgotten an anniversary, or that some ruthless businessman has destroyed the local economy, or that a hapless driver has run over his or her favorite author (ahem), just shrug your shoulders and smile sympathetically, offer a beer and say to your friend,

“Expect little.”

With a great big smile and my fingers crossed, I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

18 Comments

  1. Oh wow, what a refreshing and soul-relieving read. Expect little! That’s my mantra for today and every other day! I have to thank you for posting this, Both. As always you never fail to open up my eyes to be realistic in a very practical way. It’s something I need to hear, especially today. I know now what I should have known much earlier, about expectations. I have to watch myself, sometimes I subconsciously expect things to happen even though in reality I have convinced a part of myself that I don’t really expect anything. Very human eh.

    I’ll be spreading this post around! You rock!

    Your Crazy Reader,
    Shanaz

    • Dear Shanaz,

      Oh, hello again, how are you? I’m, as usual, delighted that you like what I’ve had to say, and even happier that it might actually have helped on an especially needful day — a day the details of which I won’t ask about.

      As for simultaneously believing and not-believing a thing, whether subconsciously or otherwise, I encourage you to allow yourself the luxury of contradictory expectations. Life has no qualms about reserving several thousand disparate possibilities for every occasion; I don’t see why one ought to decide upon a probable outcome for everything. Lots of things can go either way. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

      …Besides, I intuit the sort of expectations you may be thinking about, generally, and that sort of business is almost certainly the least predictable of all. Not to mention, how does one ‘expect little’ while on a crusade for that sort of holy grail? More paradox! And is it possible to — actually love — someone of whom one has few expectations? What, while Johnny Depp dashingly proves that the possibilities of humanity are endless, and that while wearing a goofy tricorn hat with tassels, even? Hah!

      Yeah, so I’d apply my arguments to scenarios where they seem uplifting, rather than downtrodding. Take care not to use a wrench as a hammer or a screwdriver as a saw. My nonsense has its uses, perhaps, but it perchance has its hazards, as well.

      You’re way too awesome, Shanaz. Thank you so much for always popping in and giving your point of view. It’s worth the effort when I know it’s making people smile.

      Yours Truly,

      -Both

  2. Both,

    Strangely, and rather unsurprisingly given our shared attributes, this is a belief I’ve held since I became the misanthropic, elitist asshole my friends know and love at roughly age 16. Not sure what happened there really, I used to be a nice kid.

    People will claim it to be pessimistic, and I’ve often been labeled a pessimist. But realistic, and realist is always my response. Once again though, you’ve managed to articulate the patchy thought process I try and describe when defending this sort of mantra. Expect little. Shit happens.

    Anger doesn’t solve anything. I doubt spitting upon the hood of her car would’ve accomplished a great deal. It would’ve been hilarious to recount in a blog, but it’s just as funny, if not funnier to stand a laugh. Who lets go of the rope first by the way? I suspect it’s her, that looks to be an expensive suit he’s wearing. He’s clearly got cash in abundance. Greedy bitch.

    Favourite quote: “Expect your favourite band to use too much cowbell.”
    Haha. Nothing worse than unnecessary percussion too strong in the mix.

    Mac.

    • Heya, Mac,

      You know, this piece actually weirds me out when I read it, because it is misanthropic, and it is oddly negative, but I don’t intend it to be, nor do I feel the slightest bit of animosity toward the general public. In fact, I mean to be nice. I mean for it to actually cause goodwill toward men, as they say. Isn’t it strange that such a list of negative observations should have an affirming conclusion?

      Personally, I don’t understand it, but I don’t understand it because I’m not going to dedicate any time to thinking it over. It doesn’t matter. It works, and it seems true, besides. So.

      As for spitting on the hood, ha ha, I — used to be a younger, more punk-rock man, and I used to spit on cars regularly. Where I lived then, in Huntington Beach, people would often move slowly into crosswalks to intimidate pedestrians into walking faster across the street. I’d casually hawk one right onto their neato little paintjobs. Funny thing: Americans have an almost passionate relationship with their automobiles; I’ll never forget how shocked and wildly frightened the drivers would look when I would do that. You’d have thought I’d put a gun to their noses.

      Anyhow, enough self-debasement. Onward to my Friday night.

      Cheers, Mac.

      Yours Truly,

      -Both

      • Haha. I should spit on car bonnets a bit more often. A friend of mine pissed on a car once. Not while it was in motion obviously, that’d be a historical feat. But a parked car, belonging to someone we used to go to school with, in the dead of night, blind drunk.

        Maybe it’s not misanthropic. Maybe I just slapped that on myself. I tend to do that. Shit’s like emulsion paint to me. Slap it on and cover it up. That analogy made little sense.

        Mac.

  3. Along the same lines, I’d offer a preamble to the mantra: “Demand much.” While lower expectations is therapeutic, I think it may ultimately be a bit fatalistic, or misanthropic as was previously suggested. To the woman who almost made a hood ornament out of you, it was suggested a knowing look was shared, that you both knew she knew more was demanded of her—namely, to more vigorously avoid contests between Fords and pedestrians. Once this basic acknowledgment is had, your mantra to “expect little” should instantly be recalled so as to soothe the contestants’ heightened emotions.

    • Dear Mr. Kowal,

      Well, hello! So nice to see you here, and with rejoinders, as well. It’s very true what you say, of course; one would do well to encourage one’s friends and acquaintances to conduct themselves appropriately (whatever one may suppose that to be). I once talked about this in a piece from last year, “How to Refrain from Being a Dick,” like this:

      I try to catch myself when I think something uncool about another person — preferably before I say it — and this self-censorship is part of how I try to be cool to people. However, I also feel that I owe society a little vigilance in holding my friends and neighbors accountable when I calculate their behavior to be assholey or dickish, and in mentioning similar judgments to other people when appropriate — you know, in order to spread the word: “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but notice that what you just did makes you look like a huge asshole. You should knock that shit off.” Being nice to everyone all the time seems injudicious, seems to perpetuate unwanted, uncool behavior in society.

      Yeah, so, you and I, we see eye-to-eye on that. I’m glad someone said something. I’m always subtly disappointed when there’s a glaring omission in my reasoning which nobody points out. I have a hard time trimming my broad topics down to fit today’s brief attention span, and I often leave things like this out precisely because I’m certain somebody will mention it for me in the comments, anyhow.

      I think to “demand” much is rather aggressive — not unnecessarily so, though. In fact, a victim may even need aggression to do any good by, shall we say, informing transgressors that they are guilty of assholish behavior.

      Good beer talk. I’d say that conversation could go half an hour, easy, with five or more conversationalists involved.

      Cheers, Tim.

      Yours Truly,

      -Both

  4. It may not be the most optimistic way to go through life, but dammit if it doesn’t make the whole process a little easier. Low expectations also make for some of life’s best surprises. (For instance, I recently went into the theater to see Inception, expecting a too-hyped, detail-confused, mess of Nolan’s worst ideas. I was pleasantly surprised that only 1 of those adjectives fit…)

    Anyways, I always say when life gives you lemons, you hoard those lemons from the rest of your fellow man in case there’s a nuclear fallout and the only legitimate currency is sour fruit. “Expect little” is a more concise notion, so I’m using it as a replacement.

    Loved the whole idea, as usual. Keep up the solid writing and philosophizing.

  5. Dear Both,

    I’m so touched by your gesture, reading and commenting on my old rambling posts. I always love to read your views and ideas and reading those comments really made my day! I hope all’s well with you and that you will come back with more juicy posts for us your loyal flock of readers!

    Sending warm wishes your way,
    Shanaz

  6. this is an amazing long. expect little. i’m gonna start saying that to myself. thanks for the good read!

    • Dear Christina,

      Why, thank you very much! I haven’t had time to write since this piece as I’ve been commissioned to do a screenplay, but it’s nice to know that “In a Real World…” still turns some heads.

      I’m glad you think the philosophy is worth practicing; it’s worked wonders for me. I’ve noticed since publishing this, however, that there is a fine line between an expectation and a prejudice, ha, ha. You’ve been warned.

      Cheers, woman!

      Yours Truly,

      -Both

  7. amoazing read* i don’t know why i said long haha

    • Likely because it is, like everything I write, long, ha, ha. Freudian slip, et cetera.

      -B

  8. I remember when you told me this that one day. Now that I’m reading it I have more time to think. Good shit teach, very good shit. Keeps us sane and happy. Expectations lead to frustrations according to Steven Covey. This is SO right on.

    • Dear Dwight,

      I do not know Mr. Covey, but I do know that expectations make as much sense as tarot cards to me. Projections are difficult. Even NASA needs a complicated computer aboard every shuttle.

      Cheers,

      -Both

  9. Loved reading this. Expect little. It’s now ingrained in my head! I feel like I’ll be using the saying quite a bit now- it certainly can’t hurt. @Tim- “Demand Much,” too. These two together are a good way to live life!

    • Dear Socialite,

      Yes, I say it often, myself. I can’t say it’s for everyone, but maybe it’s for every so-called realist. I’m not so good at generalizations or concise diction.

      Cheers,

      -Both

  10. Your post reminded me of a conversation with a friend:

    F: How are you feeling these days?

    Me: Oh, I’ve lowered my expectations, so life is pretty good.

    Then realizing how odd that sounded, we collapsed into laughter.

    Where do we get this desire for the ultimate, the best, the perfect, the ideal? Is it really a bad thing to want it? I think no. You hit the nail on the head when you kept saying, “Don’t expect it!” Very good.

    I think you can be optimistic and realistic at the same time, if you have lots of hope!

    Thanks for the post!


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